Former 'Today' Employee Speaks Out on NBC's "Defensive" Response to Matt Lauer Claims

Addie Zinone - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Addie Zinone

"To get defensive and to start blaming everyone else, I don't think it's productive," says Addie Zinone, who worked for the network and says she had a consensual-but-unbalanced relationship with Lauer.

In the third paragraph of a memo to employees on Wednesday afternoon, NBC News chairman Andy Lack sought to set the record straight. "Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Matt Lauer's conduct is absolutely false and offensive," he wrote.

Lack asserted that his network acted quickly and decisively in terminating Lauer in November 2017, but he also used the memo to settle a score with Ronan Farrow, author of the soon-to-be-published Catch & Kill and a former network journalist.

"It disappoints me to say that even with passage of time, Farrow’s account has become neither more accurate, nor more respectful of the dedicated colleagues he worked with here at NBC News," Lack wrote to employees. "He uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture."

Addie Zinone, who worked for The Today Show as a production assistant until leaving the network in 2000 for a local television job, thought the memo was needlessly retributive and defensive. Zinone, who had a consensual relationship with Lauer that she said was an abuse of his power, also thought it unfairly attacked Farrow, whom she called "the most meticulous reporter there is" and somebody who "comes with a massive amount of credibility."

"It's time for a reckoning, and they can rebuild," Zinone told The Hollywood Reporter of NBC. "But to get defensive and to start blaming everyone else, I don't think it's productive. ... These are people in a position of power who have a responsibility to be honest now that the veil has been pulled back. ... Clearly there are enough women coming forward that NBC failed some of its most vulnerable employees."

Of Farrow, she said, "When Ronan reached out to me, that was one phone call I was going to take because I know his reputation and I know he was going to fact-check everything I was going to say and I trust him with my story."

After Lauer's termination, NBC conducted an internal investigation that included 68 interviews. "We found no evidence indicating that any NBC News or Today Show leadership, News HR or others in positions of authority in the News Division received any complaints about Lauer’s workplace behavior prior to November 27, 2017," NBCUniversal's general counsel wrote in May 2018. "Based on the nature and number of complaints reviewed, including the allegations related to Lauer’s conduct and the other workplace complaints that have been raised through existing channels, the investigation team does not believe that there is a widespread or systemic pattern of behavior that violates Company policy or a culture of harassment in the News Division."

As part of the investigation, Zinone was interviewed by a lawyer for less than an hour. On Thursday, she questioned whether an internal investigation was the right way to probe the matter. 

"I just know there are questions by really smart people who were wondering if they were thorough and if an internal investigation is really the best way to handle abuses of power and women," she said. "Internal are not the best policemen."

Zinone says that she never reported her situation to human resources. "I just believe that HR and leadership are going to take care of their most valuable commodity and assets," she said. "At the time, it was Matt Lauer and The Today Show. They were going to preserve the image of America's First Family."

Zinone said she knows of former NBC employees who reported Lauer's misbehavior to management. But in his memo on Wednesday, Lack wrote: "Following Lauer’s firing, NBCU's legal team did an exhaustive investigation of available records and conducted dozens of interviews of past and present staff. They uncovered no claims or settlements associated with allegations of inappropriate conduct by Lauer before he was fired."

In March 2018, Zinone co-founded Press Forward, an organization that works to make news organizations "safe, inclusive and fair — for women and men alike."

"I do think there is a reckoning coming, and I don't believe that people can get away with this behavior anymore," she said.

While painful for Zinone to relive, the revelations about Lauer unearthed this week — in a preview of Farrow's book — have refocused attention on the issue of misconduct and mistreatment in the media industry, she said.

"I'm really proud of what we have been able to do," said Zinone. "It is what I wanted to happen when I came out with my story."